Angels taking big risk by allowing Shohei Ohtani to pitch again in 2018

A UCL sprain isn’t going to keep Shohei Ohtani from getting back on the mound. The Los Angeles Angels are moving forward with their plan to let Ohtani pitch again in 2018. The team announced Tuesday that he would throw a bullpen session Saturday. It’s the biggest step Ohtani will take since the injury forced him to stop pitching in early June.

Despite the obvious risks, the Angels have always left the door open for Ohtani to return to the mound in 2018. Is that the right move?

Bringing back Shohei Ohtani could backfire on the Angels

At 57-58, the Angels are not serious contenders for the postseason. The team sits 10.5 games out of the second wild-card spot, and is stuck in one of baseball’s toughest divisions. If Ohtani is 100 percent, he’ll help them make up some ground, but he’s not good enough to close that gap.

On top of that, the risk of re-injury is pretty large. Ohtani suffered a grade-2 sprain of his UCL in June. He came into the season with a first-degree sprain. An injection before the season helped Ohtani get to this point, but he still managed to injure himself. The Angels say his elbow has shown progress in the time he’s been sidelined, but that could all be undone if Ohtani starts throwing again. Another setback could lead to Tommy John surgery, which would sideline Ohtani for at least a full year.

Shohei Ohtani has been hitting well since his elbow injury

Since the injury, Ohtani has been a full-time hitter with Los Angeles. He’s performed well, hitting .250/.323/.536 in 28 games. By wRC+, an advanced stat that measures offensive performance, Ohtani has been the team’s second-best hitter this season.

While he’s been able to play through his current injury, there’s no guarantee that will continue if the injury gets worse. If Ohtani’s return to the mound leads to a more serious elbow issue, the Angels may lose one of their best hitters too.

Players can pitch through UCL tears

The risk is obvious with Ohtani, but it’s worth noting that some pitchers have been able to pitch effectively with tears in their elbow. New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has done it the past couple seasons. Minnesota Twins pitcher Ervin Santana suffered a UCL tear in 2009, and still hasn’t had Tommy John surgery. It is possible for Ohtani to continue pitching, and pitching well, even with a UCL injury.

The Angels believe the risk is worth taking with Shohei Ohtani

Ultimately, the Angels know more than we do about Ohtani’s injury and recovery. It’s possible they believe Ohtani will be just fine the next time he gets on the mound. It’s also possible they fully expect surgery to be likely, and that no amount of rest is going to fully fix the issue, so they might as well see if Ohtani can pitch through it.

The only way they’ll know for sure is to put Ohtani on the mound and hope for the best.

Shohei Ohtani is prepping to get back on the mound. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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